Allied Arts Guild: Local Secret, Menlo Park CA

Spanish Colonial Building, Photo by Eva Barrows
Spanish Colonial Building, Photo by Eva Barrows

Menlo Park, CA has swallowed up a secret under the canopy of its tree-lined streets. A few un-exciting brown historical marker signs on the main street, weakly hint at the existence of something worth checking out. These signs have never caught my attention.

“How’d you hear about us?” The grandma aged store clerk asked me as I perused the Artisan Shop.

“Online,” I’d said not thinking about the reasoning behind her question. My attention was on the hand-crafted fur embellished Eskimo doll and red-faced European style marionettes for sale.

“Good job,” she said as she worked at straightening some hanging jewelry.

Woodworking Barn, Photo by John Barrows
Woodworking Barn, Photo by John Barrows

My husband, an artist, was intrigued when I told him I’d found a hidden art guild he’d never heard of nestled into a Menlo Park neighborhood. He eagerly agreed to come out with me during a break in January rain storms to explore the Allied Arts Guild compound with me.

Some buildings like the sheep shearing shed turned pottery studio and the barn which is now a woodworking shop are original 1800’s era ranch buildings. Other buildings were re-imagined or newly constructed in the Spanish Colonial style around 1930 when the Allied Arts Guild was formed.

Courtyard, Photo by Eva Barrows
Courtyard, Photo by Eva Barrows

Artwork created in the 1930’s has seamlessly melded into the idyllic ambiance of the Guild’s grounds. The tiered courtyard fountain creates the soothing sound of trickling water. A colorful fresco painted onto the recess of the music room’s exterior wall. Pottery overflows with plant life or is simply lined up next to other pots silently welcoming visitors.

We poked our heads into shop windows and found that about half of them were open that day. There was a closed quilt shop that featured piles of colorful folded stacked fabric which I would have loved to browse through. The pottery studio was open and featured Japanese style details such as bud vases attached to lengths of bamboo. My husband was disappointed to find the Portola Art Gallery was closed for the day. The gallery represents current local artists in a wide variety of art styles.

On weekends my husband and I usually move slow and thankfully we arrived just before the Blue Garden Café stopped serving lunch. I ordered a steak panini and my hubby ordered a turkey and cheese panini. I was delighted by the tender and tasty meat and he was pleasantly surprised by apple slices in his sandwich! The meals were on the expensive side but we didn’t mind too much because we enjoyed every bite.

Garden Walkway, Photo by Eva Barrows
Garden Walkway, Photo by Eva Barrows

We walked the brick-lined garden path and noticed a few other couples exploring the unique grounds. A group of parents with young boisterous children came to play amongst the adobe style courtyards and pathways.

The day became even more gray threatening rain. It was time to take shelter so we headed to the car. I watched as the parents slipped back out to the road, pulling children in wagons or chaperoning an unsteady tricycle. This recreation seeking group knew the secret of the Allied Arts Guild but to them the Guild was just a part of the neighborhood.

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5 thoughts on “Allied Arts Guild: Local Secret, Menlo Park CA”

  1. A delightful read about a quaint treasure complex! I especially enjoyed the personal touch of your description. Someday I would like to visit these rustic grounds and feast on an expensive but exquisite meat panini!

  2. You capture the charm of this place well. In recent years the cafe has expanded its hours under professional management of local chef and author Jesse Cool. Previously, it was open for limited hours by the pleasant but firm ladies of the Allied Arts Guild, who served meals with the gracious but firm air of grandmothers who would brook no uncleaned plates or sloppy table manners. And it’s high time to revisit, when the wisteria blooms over the patio.

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